Last night I got off work at midnight and went to some bars I used to frequent during my drinking days. There are three in particular I chose to visit on the Howard Street strip, which continues to be developed, gentrified, and yuppified at a vigorous pace. I started with The Dubliner.
When I walked in, I was pleased to see a live duo of an acoustic guitarist and drummer playing "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's a song I know how to play, and it's about recovering from addiction. Then the duo rolled into a medley beginning with the tune "Superstitious" by Stevie Wonder, seamlessly mixing in "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix, then returning to "Superstitious" for the finish. At the end of the medley, the singer handed off his guitar to a guy on the side of the stage. This new singer immediately announced into the microphone how drunk he was, then rattled off a sloppy rendition of Johnny Cash's classic "Folsom Prison Blues" (which I can also play), followed by an equally sloppy version of Steve Miller's "The Joker" (yes, I can play that too), punctuating the end of each song with further reference to his drunkenness, while also encouraging the audience to accelerate their own inebriation. I smiled and continued to drink my glass of water.
I stepped around to the side of the stage to pay my compliments to the first singer, who happened to have a Jimi Hendrix portrait painted on the face of his Martin guitar. He told me that an artist friend of his had done it, and I replied that an artist friend of mine had carved some yoga etchings into my guitar. He said: "Oh, you practice yoga? I do too." I wished him well and connected with him through Facebook.
Leaving The Dubliner, I recalled an incident in the back parking lot from over a decade ago in which I had tussled with a state champion wrestler, who had left me with some nice bruises and scrapes. He was skilled. I was mainly cocky.
I continued my stroll down memory lane and went a half-block farther until I reached MacDinton's, which is like a frat party that's outgrown its college days but wishes to persist into the realm of young professionals with business degrees. There was a live band playing there too (this time with a bass player). The electric guitarist pined away with "Sweet Home Alabama"—not quite nailing the trademark riff with accuracy or completeness, but putting plenty of gusto into his performance nevertheless.
As I rocked back and forth on my feet, some automatic yoga cropped up in the form of kechari mudra, which happens sporadically sometimes, especially in group settings where there's a lot of energy swirling around. I tasted the sweetness of amrita dripping down from the nasopharynx and enjoyed the sensation, but I noted a very subtle hint of spiritual pretentiousness in my posture. I inquired into it, loosened up more, and shrugged it off.
But right there on the dance floor, I started to contemplate and wish for a new kind of venue, a new kind of late-night scene. I was wanting to keep the rock n' roll, but dispose of the booze, to carry on with the ecstatic vibe, but transform the white-collar, plastic aesthetic. I thought: I can make it happen. I can thread the needle between the mainstream and the ultra-mellow kirtan. I just need to utilize the magic formula of vision, desire, and action, and it will come to be.
I left MacDinton's and walked by another bar that had recently been torn down and replaced with condominiums. I stared at the spot where the old bar once stood, where I had been kicked out for a variety of offenses, like throwing cardboard drink coasters at fellow patrons in some kind of pseudo-ninja fantasy, then wrecking my car into the bar owner's SUV in the parking lot, and finally speeding off to escape accountability. Months later the owner had randomly encountered me in the wee hours of the night at a Texas Hold-Em table at the Hard Rock Casino, and he asked me if I had ran into his car. Being high on Xanax, cocaine, and of course, liquor, I replied, "Oh no, that wasn't me." To this day, I forget his name and face, and have yet to make amends with him. Well, I suppose karma will rectify it somehow and give me an opportunity to make it right.
I kept walking to my last stop, which was a dive bar called The Tiny Tap, established in 1934—the oldest in Tampa. It was much more of a blue-collar crowd, with cheap pool and cheap beer. One night I had got into a fight with a guy there who was disrespecting a female friend of mine. He had clocked me in the jaw when I wasn't looking, knocking me down to the ground. I sprung up quickly and put him in a choke hold, submitting him on his back. I ended up winning that fight.
I left the Tiny Tap and headed home. When I got to the railroad tracks that diagonally intersect Howard Street and peel off towards my neighborhood, I took off my shirt and absorbed the saltwater breeze, full of recycled air from ages past. I walked on top of the tracks and remembered placing pennies on those very same rails with my father when I was a child, then returning the next day to find them perfectly flattened, as we had hoped for.
The landmarks on Howard Street change, the people that populate the city change, the stories and events that shape their lives change. But something stays the same. And That, we call stillness, inner silence, the witness. I dive into that presence everyday, like clockwork. And I wonder: what treasures are yet to be revealed from that deep, infinite source that is mind-bogglingly mysterious?
The higher power is in us.